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Norman Albers

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This is where we part company. I think that's pushing one specific social method due to ideological concerns that have little connection with energy use and land management. I think we can be spread out and be efficient, especially in the Internet age. Also I'm not convinced that urban packing is in itself more efficient in energy usage. And I don't think land has to be public in order to be preserved -- private ownership isn't evil, and it's going to happen (possibly even more so) if we're all packed together in cities.

 

Gotta watch those PC cliches -- sometimes they bite back.

 

"Especially in the internet age?" Are you implying that everyone works from home now so there aren't big commutes? Even if that were true (and it isn't), people obviously drive for other reasons. I know this because I've seen the endless swaths of parking lots in those huge, soulless, low-density commercial districts. The more spread out they are, the more they drive.

 

And about those parking lots. All that uneccesarily paved land. A few miles of freeway, hundreds of acres of parking lot and strip malls, and a handful of housing developments would all just be one subway stop in a real city.

 

And "urban packing" most certainly IS more efficient energy usage. Manhatten has one EIGHTH the national average per capita energy consumption, and a far, far smaller fraction of land usage. There are lots of reasons for that, which all tend to reinforce one another. Large apartment buildings are much more energy efficient than houses, and allow people to live close together, which means travel distances are that much shorter. Which in turn means we can easily walk most places we need to go, and for those times we can't, the efficiency (and convenience) of public transportation increases exponentially with population density.

 

I agree land doesn't have to be public in order to be saved. That's just one way, and probably not even the best way. I imagine most of it could be accomplished if our zoning laws had even a little foresight, instead of being motivated by local governments' shortsighted visions of property tax revenue.

 

So yeah, I guess we do part company....

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This thread addresses indeed some of the problems my country is coping with, or is going to cope with very soon.

 

The thread started with the stagnation of population growth. In my country, we're going to see the effect of that very soon. In the years after the second world war, there was an enormous enormous increase in births. In the years after, population growth levelled off and our population is still growing at a slow rate, even if you count in immigration. Our "baby-boomers" are going to reach old pension age soon, so we will indeed have a situation in which a relatively small work force is going to have to support a relatively large inactive group.

 

We've seen this coming for years, of course, so we're more or less prepared, though there still is a lot of discussion about how much of a problem this is going to be.

 

One side of the story is, that there will be many more people on social benefit than before. Also, the cost of public health care is going to go up. The irony here is that the advances in health care and medicine in the past decades is causing an extra problem: not only do people live longer, but they also tend to make more costs: they need to be cured more often than before, and the treatments are more costly. The money to pay for this has to come from somewhere.

To cope with this, we've had some major changes in the past years. First, the retirement age has gone back up from 62 (or 60 in some cases) to 65. There's talk of making this 67, and at least the people are stimulated to voluntarily keep on working after they reach the age of 65.

Next, major efforts have been made to make the state finances sound, so that implicitely a reserve has been build up to pay for the extra expenses.

We'll still need some more money though, and there's still a political debate going about where this is going to come from. The left-wing politicians want to tax old pensioners, but only those who are going to receive a large additional benefits on top of their standard old age benefits. The right-wing politicians want to make cuts in other public expenses, especially in public health care.

To pay for the extra public health care expenses, we've also had a major revision in our health care system in the past years.

 

A few notes on the success of these measures:

To have people work longer will of course generate (tax) money, but companies aren't too happy to have the elderly as employees, claiming that they are ill more often and also have a lower work efficiency.

State finances are indeed sound at the moment, but I'm not sure if our efforts to do so account for that. The success of our economy depends for the most part on world economy and we have very little influence on that.

The revision in our health care system was meant to increase efficiency and thus lower the costs. The results are mixed: there is some improvement in efficiency, but we're also all paying more than before.

All in all we're not quite done yet, I think.

 

However, there's also another side to the story. The elderly in our society are not an inert mass: they're consumers. There are going to be quite a large number of elderly people who will have lots to spend, because they have built up high additional pension benefits during the post-war decades, when our economy was doing very well. Also, the elderly are healthier and more active than before. So there will be whole new group of consumers to cater for, and this will generate a good number of jobs.

 

The situation therefore is not only bad news. We'll have to see though, how it develops, and in what proportion the positive side is going to measure up to the negative side.

 

Airmid.

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"Especially in the internet age?" Are you implying that everyone works from home now so there aren't big commutes?

 

Of course not, I simply say that there has been an impact. Even if it's only a few percentage points here and there, every little bit helps. I live in "exurbia", but I can't remember the last time I went to a shopping mall or a video rental place, and I only drive to work three days out of seven. Granted my story isn't typical, and traffic is still growing rather than shrinking, but how much more would it have grown by if not for the rise of telecommuting and internet shopping? There has been some impact.

 

 

Even if that were true (and it isn't), people obviously drive for other reasons. I know this because I've seen the endless swaths of parking lots in those huge, soulless, low-density commercial districts. The more spread out they are, the more they drive.

 

Sure. But I get the impression from your last couple of posts that if we all drove vehicles that somehow miraculously didn't use energy at all, you would still hate "Exurbia" because of the land usage. Never mind the fact that the cities you want us all to live in (whether we want to or not) are often decrepit eyesores and the most eggregious abusers of nature/land.

 

And to be blunt, I get the impression that you'd hate "exurbia" even if it didn't use land in a way you deem undesirable. This seems to be more about social issues, about everyone frequenting the same coffee shops and sipping the same lattes and criticizing the same politicians, not about land or energy usage. But hey, maybe I'm reading you wrong. :)

 

 

And "urban packing" most certainly IS more efficient energy usage. Manhatten has one EIGHTH the national average per capita energy consumption, and a far, far smaller fraction of land usage.

 

And produces tremendous amounts of light and heat. And utterly destroys any natural value that land those cities are sitting on may have once had. Wheras the same population spread out in an intelligent and conservation-oriented manner might be less destructive and lower in energy consumption.

 

My "exurbia" neighborhood has wetlands retention, water filtration, wildlife preservation, and a lower albedo and surface coverage (pave-over) than any urban area in the country. The natural value of the land I live on is not only preserved, it's accessible to everyone who lives here (not to mention all the urbanites who flock out here every weekend to play in it).

 

I wouldn't see any of that if I lived downtown. But hey, I could walk from my generic apartment box down hot, paved streets to the local socially-approved coffee shop to sip that latte and speculate as to why anybody would be crazy enough to live in "exurbia". I guess cities have that going for 'em.

 

 

So yeah, I guess we do part company....

 

Yup. :)

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The other subject in this thread is about overpopulation. Since I'm living in a country the size of Massachusetts, but with a population of 16 million instead of 6.5 million, I thought I'd say a few things about our situation.

 

First, about land use. Yes, we have very strict rules about land use. As you can imagine my country is pretty much urbanized. We have hardly any "wild" areas left, so what we have left is strictly protected. We have quite a large agricultural area, which is more or less protected too: every inch of our land has a land use designation (i.e. urban, agricultural, commercial, "nature", etc.) and changing the designation of a piece of land is a major political decision.

 

And yet our population is (slowly) growing, and people need to live somewhere. We've come up with a few solutions for this.

- Build high. This has been attempted especially in the 60's and 70's, but wasn't a big success. Our soil is not really fit for building high, and people simply hated living in those high appartment buildings. So this has been aborted and the high appartment buildings are gradually being pulled down.

- Create new land. A few hundred years ago my country was a lot smaller than it is now. Relatively large lakes have been made dry, and also part of an inland sea gulf in the most recent times. These areas are now for the most part agricultural areas. We have about half of the former inland sea (now a lake) left, and there are no plans to make this dry also, because it has received a "natural area" designation.

- Increased efficiency of land use. This is our most successful solution. Compared to US houses our average houses are small, have 2-3 storeys, are built in rows instead of free-standing, and have very small backyards.

All new housing areas (yes, there are quite a few of those, usually nibbling off bits of the agricultural areas) are strictly planned. In an attempt to keep the housing environment interesting, and break the monotony of row after row of houses, "green" zones are included also, and the latest trend is to make sure no road runs straight *wry smile*.

- An attempt to spread the people more evenly over the country. Most people live in the west and the center of the country, a situation that has grown historically. Companies are currently being stimulated to move their offices to less densely populated areas, hoping that the people will follow. This strategy is a recent one, and has some success, and might help us out more in the near future.

 

As I said above, the agricultural areas are more or less protected, and yet new housing areas are being build in former agricultural areas. It is mostly out of necessity that this happens. The growth of the population, and the trend to replace high appartment buildings with lower building blocks simply demand more land for housing. Building even smaller houses, or closer together, is not a realistic option at the moment. As a result, agriculture gradually has to do with a smaller land area, and yet has to keep up production. So, intensive farming is the norm here, and of course that causes a lot of new issues: environmental, animal wellfare, vulnerability to animal diseases, etc.

 

Also a few words on transportation. I think I need to make a distinction between 2 kinds of transportation: home-work travel, and "household" travel.

 

To start with the last: with "household" travel I mean short distance travel like doing shopping, bringing kids to school, visiting friends and family, going to the cinema, etc. This is not a problem. First, because we use the bicycle so much for short distances. This is historically grown, and as a result our infrastructure is adapted to bicycle use and has with all kinds of special facilities for bicycles. I think we're quite unique in the world in this. Second, all common facilities are usually close by, as a result of the rigourous planning that has been going on in the past decades.

 

Home-work travel, however, is quite a different story. Somehow, even with our rigourous planning, we didn't manage to end up in a situation in which most people live close to their work and so we have a big rush hour problem. Here's some things we're trying to do to solve this:

- Build more roads. This is the traditional approach to the problem, and it helped for a while, but it's not working anymore.

- Gliding work hours. This method is widely used at the moment. People who have jobs that don't require their presence at strict hours usually can start work anywhere between 7 and 11 in the morning. This method works somewhat, although families with school-age kids still prefer the traditional work hours.

- Work from home. This method is hardly used at the moment, and companies seem to object to it very much.

- Getting people to use public transport. We have excellent public transport, at least compared to other countries, so this sounds like an excellent solution. And yet all kinds of incentives that are being tried to get people out of their cars and into the public transport don't seem to work. The subject is being studied intensively, and I hope we'll have some practical results soon.

- Relocation of company offices to where the people live, and of people to where the companies are, and of both to less densely populated areas. This is going to be a slow process, since we don't want to force companies or people to relocate. Instead, a system of incentives is being used. Also some areas that traditionally had a commercial use are being transformed into housing areas and vice versa.

- Even more careful future planning. You might think we'll end up as an horribly overregulated country this way, but this is the method that has yielded the best results so far. We already can't buy a random piece of land and start building a house or an office on it, and haven't been able to do so for decades. What's more: we don't mind. We really don't see this as a sacrifice.

 

Airmid.

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Sorry if I was less than positive last night. Thank you Airmid for the perspectives I knew exist in Europe. Netherlands has a most unique real estate situation. I respond to the descriptions of urban boundaries, such as I saw in France and Czechoslovakia in 1970, by saying I do not expext one simple answer for most issues here so respect what works for different peoples. Airmid, are there conscious policies which have rendered you a "slowly growing" population? I had an honest talk with a good friend from Mexico whose restaurant serves wonderful food. He came from a family of 6-7 kids, and wanted a third child. His wife was not so enchanted, so I said, yes I can imagine "un discurso sobre la populacion, a las once de la noche" and joked about a prophylactic: "si...no...si...no". They had the child but I did tell him that I think it is selfish to keep making babies. I am not going to be narrow-minded here. I walk into a client's home and witness four children, I say it is nice to see a well-loved family; this also is true. We must however form ideas to intelligently make choices, such as we all do, and they must evolve with the reality. My Dad was one of seven farmkids, but my beloved brother Steve (Google on him for climatology and some astronomy) was a surprise to my parents who would have happily stopped at two kids. I am blessedly child-free.

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Airmid, are there conscious policies which have rendered you a "slowly growing" population?

 

Not that I know of.

We're not a very religious country, and I guess that made a difference. Contraceptives have been widely available since the early 60's. Even our catholic bisshops have ok-ed the use of contraceptives for married couples since the 60's.

Feminism has had a big influence too, of course.

 

Airmid.

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Of course not, I simply say that there has been an impact. Even if it's only a few percentage points here and there, every little bit helps. I live in "exurbia", but I can't remember the last time I went to a shopping mall or a video rental place, and I only drive to work three days out of seven. Granted my story isn't typical, and traffic is still growing rather than shrinking, but how much more would it have grown by if not for the rise of telecommuting and internet shopping? There has been some impact.

 

Alright, fair enough. There is some impact. I don't know how big it is, but we agree it's not even enough to noticably slow the rate at which traffic is ncreasing, so I think of it more as a possible factor in the future than anything significant right now.

 

Sure. But I get the impression from your last couple of posts that if we all drove vehicles that somehow miraculously didn't use energy at all, you would still hate "Exurbia" because of the land usage.

 

Yes, I would. Energy consumption and land usage are two different (but obviously related) issues.

 

Never mind the fact that the cities you want us all to live in (whether we want to or not) are often decrepit eyesores and the most eggregious abusers of nature/land.

 

Some places, sure. And yeah, they definitely abuse the hell out of the land they actually occupy. It's just that, per capita, they occupy a miniscule fraction of the average.

 

And to be blunt, I get the impression that you'd hate "exurbia" even if it didn't use land in a way you deem undesirable. This seems to be more about social issues, about everyone frequenting the same coffee shops and sipping the same lattes and criticizing the same politicians, not about land or energy usage. But hey, maybe I'm reading you wrong. :)

 

Yes, wildly wrong, actually. For one thing, I only drink black coffee. :) You are correct in that I find exurbia aesthetically ugly in several different ways in addition to the environmental and economic stuff. But trying to impose my aesthetics on the rest of the country is itself aesthetically offensive to me, and that's not at ALL what this is about.

 

And produces tremendous amounts of light and heat. And utterly destroys any natural value that land those cities are sitting on may have once had. Wheras the same population spread out in an intelligent and conservation-oriented manner might be less destructive and lower in energy consumption.

 

Like I said, cities like New York really occupy the land they occupy. Well actually, probably not as much as you imagine, but I'll happily concede it's intense. But if that same population was spread out, we're talking thousands of square miles of land. Manhatten alone has 1.5 million permanent residents, using up only 20 square miles (including parks!). You're not going to find anyone with a smaller ecological footprint than a Manhattenite.

 

As per energy consumption, I suppose it's possible to use less, but only if you revert to pre-industrial society. Since most of us don't want to live in some hippy commune, then I'm afraid high density cities are by far your best bet, at least so far. I mean, I'm open to possibilities, of course, but the fact remains that the average American literally uses eight times as much energy as the average Manhattenite.

 

My "exurbia" neighborhood has wetlands retention, water filtration, wildlife preservation, and a lower albedo and surface coverage (pave-over) than any urban area in the country. The natural value of the land I live on is not only preserved, it's accessible to everyone who lives here (not to mention all the urbanites who flock out here every weekend to play in it).

 

Yes, and all of that is admirable. And, since not everyone can live in cities, those that can't should have similar considerations in mind. And hey, if there were 10 million people in the country instead of 300 million, that might be a reasonable goal for everyone.

 

I wouldn't see any of that if I lived downtown. But hey, I could walk from my generic apartment box down hot, paved streets to the local socially-approved coffee shop to sip that latte and speculate as to why anybody would be crazy enough to live in "exurbia". I guess cities have that going for 'em

 

I can't really imagine anyplace less "generic" than New York, but I guess that's pretty subjective. And again with the lattes. What the hell do you imagine my life is like? Because I'm concerned about the environmental, economic, and national security issues that result from endless sprawl, I have to be some kind of hipster/yuppy doofus? Maybe you've just been watching Friends.

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Fine if others like Manhattan. I was raised twenty miles away. They may have a small footprint but they may never see the stars at night. My astronomer brother issued one of the first Light Pollution indexes for the US. I guess folks are comfortable with sirens in the distance; I hear coyotes..........I appreciate Sisyphus mentioning the early economic biggies and expansion. There are sharks beneath the waters, I think. My harmonious future involves less and less consumption of petroleum fuels. I do not expect Exxon and Mobil to be happy about this. I do expect them to ride their business into the coming decades of tightening supply and higher prices. It is our job to figure out the solar panels, windmills, design choices.

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Oh no question light pollution is awful. I thought it was awful 20 years ago when I was serious about amateur astronomy, but it seems to be even worse today. I haven't seen any recent numbers, but it's really sad given that it's much easier to control than air pollution. I've noticed that we seem to have moved from the dreaded mercury vapor street lighting to sodium-based systems, but they're woefully short on hoods.

 

But anyway, Sisyphus I really do agree with much of what you're saying above, and I appreciate the clarification -- if you say you're not trying to exchange one form of uniformity (urban) for another (suburban) then I believe you. Certainly diversity is possible even in close quarters.

 

But I don't think I can buy the following premise:

 

As per energy consumption, I suppose it's possible to use less, but only if you revert to pre-industrial society.

 

I think that's an assumption that may not turn out to match the facts if we simply buckle down and give it our best. It's also predicated on another assumption that the current level of energy consumption must be reduced in order to protect the land. I'm not sure I buy that one either.

 

Maybe I'm just an optimist, but to respond to Norman's post above, MY idea of an "harmonious future" involves mankind paying attention to its impact on the land, but doing so in a smart and realistic manner, not being afraid to do a little damage along the way if it can learn something in the process, but not abusing that priviledge by doing damage and then not learning anything.

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I've been following this thread a little, and I have to wonder why we can't live within and harmoniously with nature. Maybe I'm turning into a greenie, but I don't see why I can't enjoy exurbia without all of the damn concrete. We still drive cars that use wheels and require contact and the consequences of friction with the ground. We still use fossil fuels to do work. I was hoping we'd be running on electric, hydrogen or something smarter by now. I want my Luke Skywalker mobile.

 

I wonder if technology will make that possible. I wonder if technology will end up coming to the rescue with some of this. If I just didn't need roads or parking lots - how much would that help? Would it really matter how spread out or close together we are?

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I just worked an hour with my electric garden cart filling potholes in my 300 meter dirt driveway. Some pieces of inch-thick discarded stove bricks for the deep spots, then rock-sand small mix to grout and smooth. Voila, Roman road. Here we are the water dept., and what I call the Dept. of Roads and Wrecks.

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Hydrogen is a finite resource too, you know. There's only so much of it in the universe, and then what're you gonna do, beg for more?! ;-)

 

You know, my wife and I are sea kayakin', bike-ridin' nuts. We're out in the mangroves all the time, and right now we're training for an annual 2-day 150 mile bike ride to the Keys for Muscular Distrophy. I was also an Eagle Scout, and I think I know a thing or two about being "in harmony with nature". :)

 

But sue me -- I also like driving. A lot! I drive a little two-seat convertible with about 300 horsepower, which weighs about 3,000 lbs, and does 0-60mph in about five seconds. What's interesting about that is that 40 years ago the exact same power-to-weight ratio got you to sixty almost two seconds slower. What's REALLY interesting is that I get almost thirty miles per gallon of gas. AND all of that on vastly decreased emissions.

 

The point is the system of awareness and feedback is working. And along the way we learn more science and engineering, not to mention having a hell of a lot of fun behind the wheel. What's not to like? Not only are we having our cake and eating it too, but the system actually feeds back upon itself and drives further cake-eating down the line. Throwing that away would be like asking for Tang without the Apollo program.

 

Driving's not everyone's cup of tea? That's cool -- don't drive. I'll pay your bus fare on April 15th (the same time when I get to pay for North Korea to shut off its nukyular reactor), AND I'll do my part to keep the innovation machine innovating by continuing to drive. Hey, it's a fair deal for me too -- one less car in front of me at the next light! :)

 

(PS, if you run over a baseball cap in one of those potholes, it's probably mine. Darn things keep flying off!)

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It is good if the populatio nwent down. there are alot of people on this world and a more stable population would be nice.

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Why is it good to have so many people on the planet? My reasons for not wanting too many people are personal reasons rather than scientific reasons. I see a day where there are just citys, citys everywhere. Nomore beutifal sparesely populated wilderness. That is hell for me. The population not growing certainly isn't a bad thing. In most countrys it is rising very quickly.

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I can dig your car with respectable fuel efficiency, but I too am tired of traffic crowding, etc., and would rather hear coyotes than sirens. Too many megabutts. I may have to face a real political struggle right here, but I will be in the company of a thousand people, I am sure. We have a rural two-lane road for the last ten miles near the river, with smaller house parcels near the small town, then fields and dairy farming. Someone put in a small subdivision with a major earth cut which meant we lived with huge rock trucks and occasional large Cat trailers constantly for two months. One horrid day a Cat trailer and I approached at each going 35mph, but I watched a softball-sized rock fly at me, happily low enough to shatter a directional lamp and then bounce loudly under the car. I was shaken and stopped to look for a damaged gas tank, or suspension, not the case happily. Now someone down the road wants to exercise his supposed constitutional right to open a major gold mining/gravelling operation which would overwhelm this road with constant rock trucks for maybe ten yearS. I told the county planner in writing that I will stop at least one of these trucks myself, in self-defense. I would be out of control were it not for the fact that 500 people signed a petition, within about ten miles of me. THIS KIND OF GROWTH IS OBSCENE. A cowboy redneck neighbor said he will sit down in front of the trucks. I am gratified.

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I support your right to petition and enact legislation and attempt to control your neighborhood. I just don't think it means anything about society on a larger plane.

 

If that kind of growth is so obscene, why wasn't it obscene when it produced the need for the fields and dairy farming that supported the neighborhood you moved into?

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Man, those trucks are the worst. And I love the little sign on the back of them stating how they're not responsible for shit flying out of the back of the truck. The city here has upheld that ruling and they get to throw crap all over the road, windshields, or anything else they happen to land on without a care.

 

Of course, if I tried this with my garbage, I would be heavily fined and held liable for damages and clean-up. I guess I just need to get me a little sign that says I'm not responsible for anything and viola!, I'm free...

 

I'm not exaggerating when I say we've replaced my wife's windshield 3 times now from debris flying out of trucks - one was like a 10 foot long pipe - 10 feet! And they got away with it because they kept on driving while my wife had to pull over to keep from wrecking...oh that got me so worked up I was ready to fight like a teenager

 

So, I feel for your predicament - for the reasons you stated as well.

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The same company manufacturing the electric garden cart I talk about in Engineering, makes an electric lawnmower. The Los Angeles South Coast Air Board purchased four thousand of these for people to exchange for their gasoline mowers!!! Turns out everyone having a vapor leak on the machine gastank, as well as gas containers which do not seal well, added up to a percent of hydrocarbon pollution worth doing something about. Here's hope.

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As a generalisation, the benefit of a growing economy is that it increases the material well-being of the population, such as in health care and education.
Down the road is a dairy milking six hundred head of cows. Five or six years back they altered completely their approach and became organic. I am impressed and happy about this. Jerry is a bulldog of a man but a caring person. When the dairy was built 3-4 decades ago, the entire milking, hay feeding, and calf raising area drains and is scooped to a large central concrete pit, maybe 3x4 meters. Water is being added, and there is a large slow mixing bar so the sludge can be pumped out onto the fields, a daily process rotated around maybe 200 acres. To become organic and take in a higher price for the milk, they put out ten (or twenty?) miles of electric fence to parcel out the acreage into forty 5-acre pieces, separately accessible by the cows. Both manure projection/watering (we have dry summers) and the cows are rotated, the cows going to a different field twice each day. We see them walking down the different corridors in a calm procession. This means the fields grow untrammelled for twenty days, if I have the details right on the cycle, having been watered just after the cows leave. This has raised production, improved the fields, and Jerry was grinning. I am curious about our friend Airmid in the Nederlands and the saturation of their dairy lands.

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